Brainstorming for the Arts, Gender Parity and Education

Recently, Caroline Watson, the brains behind the notion of a Global Arts Agenda came for a return visit to the Trelex Residency - this time with her husband and two wonderful accomplices: Fanny Ollivier and Richard Sobey. They turned the studio into a boardroom and think tank. Ideas, plans, strategies and debate whirled around for three intense days.
Fanny, Caroline and Richard plotting away.
The concept is to establish an international body (perhaps under the aegis of the United Nations) to 'enable business and government to use the arts in human development'; to be a forum for discussions on best practice; to lend international support to fledging efforts in countries where the arts are undervalued... etc. Unesco does a lot through its World Heritage programme but the emphasis is on historical patrimony rather than living breathing happening sort of Art that provides the real fibre of a living culture. And as artist we all know that when it comes to Art, most politicians don't know what they are doing and could benefit a lot from a code of best practice as to how to connect policy with people, artists, creative innovation and solutions based on a thriving arts culture.
The view from the corner of the studio where I was working

I was of course listening in intently and trying to speak a bit for the visual artist whose work may be neither hobby, business, therapy, educational or social project or particularly altruistic in any way but which tends often to be sidelined in funding, residencies and support for the arts which is becoming increasingly focussed on end products. Yet defining the output ahead of the creative process is like putting cart in front of the horses: it chokes creativity rather than giving it free rein.
Unusual creative process using post-its and numbers.
My husband, the philosopher David Rodin asked some pertinent questions on how the Council would define itself and its objectives so as not to become prescriptive, restrictive or biased towards western cultural values.

And Professor Jem Bendell shared a lot of insights on the inner workings of the United Nation agencies: how best to collaborate and innovate with the existing platforms. Would there be scope for an inter-agency meeting of elements working on aspects of the Arts already? Before we new it, we were planning for 80,000 sqm of industrial land belonging to the city of Geneva and diverging somewhat on making the arts scene there explode into something worth moving for.

So hopefully there will be more meetings ahead. I hope to meet the Maire of Geneva again with Jem, to learn about Swiss funding for the Arts with Fanny Ollivier and brainstorm the growth of the Trelex Model with the Amazing Richard Sobey in the near future.
Richard's enticing business card on my desk with my painting.
This inspiring weekend followed on directly from the Young Global Leaders summit at the headquarters of the World Economic Forum in Geneva where I once again used my privileges as a spouse to raise my voice on the importance of Arts for Art's sake, Gender parity and Education - three issues that never fail to fire me up.
Sustainable development goals notice board at the WEF
with Quality Education no.4 and Gender Parity no.5..

and no.18 added by yours truly. One day they will politely ask me to leave...
1. On the Arts front: I gatecrashed a small meeting of Young Global Leaders working in or with the Arts talking about how the Arts can have a more serious place in the World Economic Forum. It was heart warming and encouraging to see so many engaged young leaders (who have to be both leaders in the field and seriously engaged in improving the state of the world to be elected) concerned with the place given to the Arts and to hear of the steady progress made so far. Art has slowly been moved away from being something to decorate the wall between he coffee machine and the water dispenser and a source of relaxation or entertainment for forum attendees between sessions dealing with the intellectual hard core of the Forum to some tentative attempts at centre stage. Still, as the people in the room introduced themselves, the focus seemed to be firmly on art markets, art as entertainment, art as therapy (including a neuroscientist who had studied the relaxing properties of viewing art), art as vehicle for political change (documentary and fiction in the Israel/Palestine conflict), art as education tool... etc.... - in short, Art as a tool with applicable use. I bit my tongue for as long as I could but in the end, when it came to introducing myself, I said something along the lines of:
'I am Nina Rodin. I am an Artist. My Art is not a hobby, is not a business (God know I am not making a penny of it and it's costing me a fortune!), is not entertainment, is not good as decoration, will not solve political problems, does not aim to influence or teach. Some of my work stresses people and I make no apologies for that. But my art is not the soft option. I have been an astrophysicist and a neurophysiologist and written theses and published papers in both  - but I swear being an Artist is the hardest, most intellectually challenging thing I have ever done. Art is not the soft option to be indulged in my spare time. It is lonely, hard, underfunded, misunderstood. But can we please start to take it seriously?!!'
I didn't get thrown out of the room but got handshakes from a lot of people for the rest of the conference. So perhaps there is hope after all...

2. On the Gender Parity front: Years of campaigning softly (and sometimes less softly) on the sidelines about having a children's programme at such summits came to fruition. With the help of Jennifer Corriero, Lisa Neuberger and Rosy Mondardini, we put a children's programme together to run through the YGL summit - very generously and somewhat extravagantly supported by the WEF. Throughout the week, people approached me to thank us and explain what an extraordinary impact it had had on their experience and their ability to work to have their children both nearby and independently looked after. I hope this will now become a mainstay of WEF conferences and the organisation can become a leader here as well in setting a new standard for work-life integration that benefits both parent-professionals and their children. Think of the difference it would make to have similar facilities at large annual Neuroscience Conferences and at large Art fairs. And it is an extremely potent way of closing the gender gap: it makes it possible to combine professional excellence with parenting excellence. If, as in this case, the conference participants themselves contribute to the children's programme, then educational excellence for the children is seen to be complementary and not in conflict with professional excellence. I lost count of how many conference attendees told me with a palpable sense of relief that next year perhaps they would also bring their children.
My Art Theory Workshop in full swing...

Three children with an artwork of their choice explaining why
they have chosen it and what the artwork says about their individuality.
3. On the Education front: I had more interaction and discussion with the extraordinary Claire Boonstra of Operation Education, a dutch initiative looking to completely rethink children's education in the light of modern scientific evidence and studies of best practice around the world. I am particularly moved by Claire's intuitive understanding of the place of creativity in such new educational paradigm. Am hoping to become a Swiss ambassador for her organisation. But more about that soon hopefully. I leave you with links to her two ted talks: talk 1 and talk 2. Makes me cry every time. Who is with us?
Claire Boonstra: how difference from the norm is seen as failure.
Now how do you explain that as a problem to the Swiss?
Nina Rodin - August 2015, Trelex.

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